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Archive for October, 2010

By Paul Boden Organizing Director, Western Regional Advocacy Project

What images do the words “quality of life” bring to mind? A peaceful beach? A beautiful park? A farmers market full of healthy produce? In the realm of policing, the phrase “quality of life” carries different connotations. It means a veteran getting hauled in for sleeping on the sidewalk, a homeless woman being prohibited from resting on a park bench, or even brutal scenes like these from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno.

For poor, homeless, queer, transgendered, and disabled people, “quality of life” is a zero-sum game. It means someone else’s life is better only if theirs is worse. It also means no begging, no sitting or lying on public benches or sidewalks, no congregating in public space, and no sleeping outside. In this context, “quality of life” is an array of ordinances being used against people deemed “abnormal” or “undesirable,” especially in gentrifying areas. Quality of Life campaigns have been driven by the concerns of Chambers of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts, and residents uncomfortable with the unsightliness of extreme poverty, especially middle-to-upper class whites.

The heavy-handed tactics shown in the video clips above are extreme expressions of the daily harassment visited upon those who have to struggle with poverty, addiction, mental illness, and disabilities in open public view because they lack basic amenities such as housing. These tactics help the police clearly demarcate urban boundaries and enforce who belongs where. They’re part of a social system where welfare and punishment have become almost indistinguishable.

This is the second part in a series of articles we’re running on Quality of Life campaigns. Here we explore their theoretical basis, what they actually do, and what their implications are for our society.

Quality of Life laws are based on the Broken Windows theory, first popularized in an influential 1982 Atlantic Monthly article written by James Q. Wilson and Edward Kelling. The article reflected the ascendant conservative ideology that New Deal and Great Society programs had turned the U.S. into a “nanny state” that reinforced the laziness and criminality of the lower classes, especially people of color. This is the theory’s dubious starting point.

The premise of the Broken Windows argument is simple: it is necessary to come down hard on the “disorderly” (e.g. homeless panhandlers, drunks, prostitutes, and rowdy youth) to discourage more serious criminals from taking over a neighborhood. This was to be done by saturating selected areas with beat cops that have the “discretionary authority” to not only respond to actual crimes, but to “manage street life.” These tactics go by the various names of zero tolerance, order maintenance, and broken windows policing.

Wilson and Kelling write:

“The unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window. Muggers and robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they reduce their chances of being caught or even identified if they operate on streets where potential victims are already intimidated by prevailing conditions.”

“Tough on Crime” advocates saw Broken Windows as a panacea to the problems facing their cities. The cumulative effects of economic stagnation, growing inequality, unemployment, rampant privatization, and government neglect were ravaging urban centers. The first to apply it were New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Police Commissioner William Bratton. In 1994, they put forward Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York. Giuliani and Bratton made their careers off exporting this model. Giuliani created a consulting company and Bratton took jobs in other major cities such as Los Angeles.

In recent years, activities associated with being homeless became the most glaring signs of disorder that needed to be eliminated, and as a result the problems faced by homeless people were transformed into a criminal justice issue. Today, more than 50 cities have passed laws that prohibit sitting or lying down in public places and 100 localities have passed some form of anti-begging ordinance. To bolster Quality of Life policing efforts, Business Improvement Districts have hired private security guards to monitor and patrol public space with scant oversight to limit civil rights violations.

Consequently, public funds are being redirected from social services to homeless courts, jails, and prisons. So much so that in 2007, a public defender in Los Angeles told the Daily Journal on the condition of anonymity: “It’s not abnormal for the DA to have a policy. But this policy is about targeting the homeless in that area because the city is redeveloping that area. It’s a policy to get people off the streets and into state prison, jumping right over rehab and jail.”

Quality of Life campaigns have been credited for cleaning up and making business, entertainment, and shopping districts more enjoyable for their intended users, namely tourists, shoppers, and concertgoers. In New York City, for example, the campaign was so successful that only one homeless man remains in Times Square, but at the same time homelessness in the city was up 34%.

So the question must be asked: Do these ordinances actually work or are they “politically successful policy failures?” Who exactly do they work for and at what cost for society as a whole? Do the ends justify the means? Or are we once again developing a repertoire of exclusionary mechanisms that further tarnish our country’s claims on freedom, equality, and justice for all?

There is no clear evidence that Quality of Life campaigns have seriously reduced crime. In his book Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt calls attention to a Harvard study in which the authors conclude that “the current fascination in policy circles on cleaning up disorder through law enforcement techniques appears simplistic and largely misplaced, at least in terms of directly fighting crime.”

In the pursuit of “safe,” “sanitized,” and “livable” cities, we’re systematically stripping people of basic civil and human rights and banishing them beyond the realm of human decency. By reactivating or expanding the application of archaic vagrancy laws, we’re criminalizing the basic necessities of living and keeping in existence a disgraceful system of second-class citizenship. Nightsticks and jail time cannot address the lack of housing and services that put millions of people on the streets in the first place.

Even Wilson and Kelling concede that:

“Of course, agencies other than the police could attend to the problems posed by drunks or the mentally ill, but in most communities especially where the ‘deinstitutionalization’ movement has been strong — they do not.”

They go on to raise concerns about equity:

“How do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable? How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?…We are not confident that there is a satisfactory answer except to hope that by their selection, training, and supervision, the police will be inculcated with a clear sense of the outer limit of their discretionary authority. That limit, roughly, is this — the police exist to help regulate behavior, not to maintain the racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood.”

So, why have police become our society’s primary service providers? Aren’t other agencies better trained to deal with health, social, and economic problems? In the next part of this series we will take a look at the “long and unbecoming” history of other exclusionary social policies carried out in the name of “regulating behavior.” Histories that should make us think twice about the police’s ability to provide safety for everyone. We hope that looking at Ugly laws, anti-Okie laws, and Jim Crow laws will give us the distance and perspective we need to illumine our own blind spots and democratic failings. The fact of the matter is, we can only police the gross inequality riveting our society for so long.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-boden/whose-quality-of-life-par_b_769036.htmlOctober 22, 2010 

This series is a collaboration between researcher Casey Gallagher and Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Follow Paul Boden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@withouthousing

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[this from a trusted friend from mid-September 2010]

I was just talking with a woman at an office in Eureka and she related a disturbing story. She has been talking with a rabid, local Tea Party member recently and at one point he said that some local members had been targeting the homeless by deliberately burning blankets at homeless camping spots. He seemed proud of it and did the usual stereotyping of the homeless as all drug addicts and welfare recipients. Apparently, she really set him straight, especially in noting the huge percentage of homeless who are veterans.

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For Immediate Release: contact Paul 707.923.4488
Oct 27, 2010.

Emerald Region Poor People’s Campaign

STAND UP GET UP

Once again, the rain is a sign for police action against the poor. Wed, Oct 27, camps have been raided here in SoHum. Shamefully, deputies and chp have set up checkpoints in Redway and street sweeps in Garberville as well. Those without I.D.s showing local addresses are warned to leave the area or face arrest.

Numbers of people were arrested and others issued tickets. Reportedly the police are promising 20 or more officers for Thursday, Oct. 28.

Opposed to a police state for the poor who don’t have the proper papers? Fed up with a County where the police and some hardline merchants and some hippy gentry make policy and NOT elected officials and their administrators?

This a Civil Rights issue. Poor people are the objects of an organized campaign where “homeless” is a shorthand to hate speech. As we are told repeatedly, most Americans are two paychecks (or one mortgage or rental agreement) away from, this locally criminalized “homelessness”. This an unabashed war on the poor, starting at the bottom.

The choice is obvious – to identify clearly with the Civil Rights of poor people and stand in support.

For that purpose, there will be a Poor People Solidarity Rally in downtown Garberville at noon on this Thursday, Oct 28 and again at noon on Friday.

Bring a sign, a song, a statement – in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Bob Marley. Stand up, get up, stand up for our rights.

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French STRIKES over pension reform hold lesson for the US and other countries

French strikes in 1995 caused Paris to back off of pension reform. Now the French government is trying again, and it is again being met by massive strikes. Delay, however, only makes pension reform more costly.

By the Monitor’s Editorial Board / October 12, 2010

Cash-strapped and pension-burdened governments around the world – from the United States to Britain – should look at what’s unfolding in France today and take heed:

Massive strikes, supported by students, are halting air and train travel, while closed ports threaten French fuel supplies. It is the fifth round of protests against a proposed rise in the retirement age.

You can chalk up part of the popular pushback to being French. As sure as lovers stroll along the banks of the Seine, protesters clog the streets whenever the government tries to pare back the generous benefits of the welfare state. In 1995, for instance, French President Jacques Chirac tried his hand at pension reform. A three-week transport strike forced him to back down.

It’s not the protests themselves, but the passage of time – the difference between Mr. Chirac’s day and this autumn day 15 years later – that holds the lesson for other governments with pensions they can’t afford.

You see, back in 1995, Chirac proposed only modest changes in the French retirement system. His government zeroed in on pensions for certain government workers, such as transit employees who were allowed to retire at age 50 – a decade before most other French workers.

Fifteen years later, French President Nicolas Sarkozy can no longer afford the luxury of nip-and-tuck pension reform. His proposed changes – which are now working their way through Parliament – are far more widespread, and thus more upsetting for the population.

With a few exceptions, he plans to raise the minimum retirement age for all workers from 60 to 62, and the age at which one can get full pension benefits from 65 to 67.

Why the more painful reform? Well, the day of reckoning that got put off in 1995 can no longer be postponed. Unfortunately, delaying the fix has made it more costly, and more urgent.

Unlike in Chirac’s time, pressure from global financial markets is bearing down on European countries that have high deficits and costly pensions. Mr. Sarkozy warns that France’s coveted AAA credit rating is at risk if pensions aren’t fixed. He’s not kidding.

And not just the markets, but other European governments are insisting on national fiscal discipline – this in the wake of the Greek debt debacle that nearly sank the euro currency last spring. Chirac also did not have this pressure to worry about.

Meanwhile, negative demographic trends march on. Developed countries are grappling with the same problem that France has: As birthrates decline, fewer workers support more retirees. France’s pension system is expected to produce a deficit of $39 billion this year. It will rise rapidly unless lawmakers intervene.

Like Chirac, political leaders – from heads of state to state governors – have known for a long time about the pension crisis. This year, the American Social Security system will pay out more benefits than it receives in payroll taxes for the first time since 1983. By 2037, Social Security reserves will be gone and income flowing into the system will only be able to cover about 75 percent of benefits.

America’s state and local public employee pensions are underfunded by as much as $3 trillion. That’s why governors such as California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger have insisted on pension reforms. Wisely, 15 other states have moved to cut pension costs this year.

Will Washington follow suit? Its track record so far is poor. Perhaps it can be nudged by France’s president. Sarkozy can do his own country, and others, a favor by hanging tough in the face of strikes. The longer everyone waits for pension reform, the harder – and more expensive – it gets.
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http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2010/1012/French-strikes-over-pension-reform-hold-lesson-for-the-US-and-other-countries

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By Pericles K, special to The Daily Caller | Published 10/11/2010

This Saturday, one of Greece’s most respected newspapers, To Vima, reported that the nation’s largest government health insurance provider would no longer pay for special footwear for diabetes patients. Amputation is cheaper, says the Benefits Division of the state insurance provider.

The new policy was announced in a letter to the Pan-Hellenic Federation of People with Diabetes. The Federation disputes the science behind the decision of the Benefits Division. In a statement, the group argues that the decision is contrary to evidence as presented in the international scientific literature.

Greece’s National Healthcare System was created in the early 1980s, during the tenure of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Papandreou, an academic, won election under the slogan, Αλλαγή, which is the Greek word for Change.

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On Wednesday, October 20th, in preparation for the National Days of Action Against Police Brutality (Oct 22-23), join the Black Student Union and Redwood Curtain CopWatch for the film…

“We’re Still Here, We Never Left”
“Todavia Estamos Aqui, Nunca Nos Fuimos.”

*This Free Event starts at 6:00pm
*Location: Gist Hall, Room #219 Humboldt State Campus, Arcata
*All are welcome (students and non-students alike)

This film details the police riot in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles on May 1st, 2007- which led to the founding of the Revolutionary Autonomous Communitues (RAC).

RAC’s Food Program and events bring communities together in resistance to police brutality and for liberation!

“We’re Still Here, We Never Left” has footage never before seen on the mainstream media- documenting the truth about the police repression on May 1st, 2007, and showing the growing popular movement in oppressed communities.

Revolutionary Autonomous Communities (RAC) hopes with the film, to create dialogue, a space for popular education, and a MOVEMENT. RAC Mission Statement

For more info, call Redwood Curtain CopWatch: (707) 633-4493

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